While Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Tobias Harris carried much of the offensive burden in Philadelphia’s 108-103 win over the Boston Celtics Monday night, Matisse Thybulle, as he so often does, contributed mightily via his defensive efforts. Thybulle recorded three steals and a block, with two of those steals representing key plays in the fourth quarter when he flashed into the passing lanes to cause deflections. Moreover, Matisse was the top reason the Sixers were able to limit Boston star Jayson Tatum to 17 points, on 5-of-14 shooting from the field, and six turnovers.
Tatum entered play on Monday in a groove, having recently earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, averaging 31.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists across three games. Per NBA.com tracking, Thybulle spent 52.6 percent of his time on the court covering Tatum, during which the Celtic shot 1-of-5 from the field with two assists and two turnovers. Both turnovers occurred due to Tatum pushing off while failing to drive by Matisse using more legal methods. His only made field goal came early in the game when Seth Curry got in Matisse’s way out top, allowing Tatum to turn the corner and drive for an uncontested dunk. Otherwise, the Celtics star experienced nothing but highly-contested jumpers with Matisse right in his grill. Watch Thybulle stay locked on Tatum through the dribble handoff, then remain attached to his hip on the drive. He isn’t credited with a block here, but Thybulle affects the shot enough to force an air ball. You couldn’t teach this defense any better.
Great defense by Matisse Thybulle on Jayson Tatum pic.twitter.com/Dr9pmu7MBE— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) December 21, 2021
Of course, Thybulle’s exploits weren’t purely limited to his work on Tatum. In this next play, Matisse is covering future Sixer Jaylen Brown. He teleports around an Enes Freedom screen outside the arc in time to slither alongside Brown on the drive and block the shot attempt.
This is just absurd agility by Thybulle to circle a screen, pivot, change direction and meet Brown at the shot point pic.twitter.com/mkU3Jf7cH0— Thiago (@TScabbia) December 21, 2021
Monday wasn’t even a case of everything going right for Thybulle. The refs had a tough whistle for him, and the usual congenial Matisse could often be found jawing with the officials. On his sixth foul of the game, Thybulle gets called for the crime of allowing Marcus Smart to lower his shoulder into him and then whack him in the face. Doc Rivers challenged the call, and while the refs didn’t overturn the foul, they did also assign a technical foul to Smart. That extra point was crucial in a close ending where every one mattered, and it wouldn’t have come if Thybulle hadn’t frustrated Smart with his defense.
On top of his defense, Thybulle did just enough offensively to render him worthy of 32 minutes of court time, scoring on a couple well-timed cuts and sinking a big three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. Joel Embiid even mentioned it to reporters in Boston following the game (via the NBA Content Network):
“Matisse hit a big shot in the fourth that really got us going and got us back in the game.”
It had been a little over a week since his highly-publicized defensive effort against Steph Curry, and Thybulle notched another mano-a-mano win in his matchup with Tatum. There’s no rest for the team’s new primary defensive stopper, however. While he may avoid Trae Young, who is in the league’s health and safety protocols, he’ll still have to contend with a couple dangerous perimeter players Thursday. If the Sixers are going to win their second straight and remain above .500 on the season, they will need Thybulle to keep shutting down the opposition.